My Water Challenge

From the Diary or rather Journal of Chris Gordon-

After doing the one-day “Bucket of Water” assignment I got thinking.  While I thought that it was a very interactive project, it didn’t really help change my water footprint, or in reality put a noticeable dent in it.  The water that we use on a day-to-day basis is a very small percentage of our entire water footprint.  Well before I give you the facts I should probably tell you what a water footprint actually is.  A water footprint is a measure of how much water one uses in a predetermined period of time.  But this does not only apply to the water one uses directly (showering, flushing toilets) but also all of the water behind the scenes such as the water indirectly used to produce consumer goods, such as food, and coffee.  For example, one cup of coffee has a virtual water footprint of 37 gallons!   That right there is around the amount of water I use to shower in a week.  Furthermore, one kilogram of beef has a water footprint of 16 THOUSAND liters of water.  So for this project I decided on trying (or as the almighty Yoda said, “don’t try, do”) to lower my total water footprint at all costs.  I set a goal of reducing my water footprint by 20% each week for the next 3 weeks.  I decided to keep a diary of what I did or didn’t do each day to help and reduce my water footprint.  And to mark this progress I took the water footprint survey online at


11h– So, today is the first day of my project and everything is going swell.  My starting water footprint is 2196 cubic meters (580121.824 gal) of water a year.  That is a ton of water, if every person in my class uses that much water that’s 5,801218.24 gallons of water a year for 10 people.  TEN! Do you know how much water that would be if the entire United States consumed as much water as I do in a year? Well I’ll tell you, it’s 180,202,457,284,292.128 gallons of water a year!  That’s 180 trillion gallons of water a year, that’s the equivalence of all of the water in Lake Erie, the world’s 12th largest lake.  That is way too much water; we don’t have enough fresh water for me to continue to live this way.  So today, I have decided to limit myself to the 2.5 gallons of water a day for sanitary purposes, and will try to reduce my footprint by eating less meat and drinking coffee for the week. 1-cup coffee.

12th– And so we begin.  Today I drank my normal 64 ounces of water (two Nalgene bottles).  And because I’m limiting myself to 2.5 gallons of water a day, I’m decided to make a schedule of a showering/dishwashing water usage so I don’t need to do both in the same day.  I decided that on odd days I will shower and on even days I will use the water to shower, with the exception of weekends during which I don’t shower or wash dishes. So today I took my shower. I remember during class when the other students were talking about how they did the showering bit, and I decided that it would be a good idea to do that last.  Then I could use all my remaining water to shower.  I also remembered one of the students talking about how they took a couple cups of water and poured it over them to get wet, soaped, and then rinsed with the remaining water.  So I tried this and it worked relatively well except that the water was sooo cold, and I missed some of the dirt on my knee so I scrubbed it off with my still wet rag.  Unfortunately I am addicted to coffee and I had to have my cup this morning, but I resisted for a good 20 min.  The rest of the water I drank (64oz) used for the toilet (1.5 gal) and used to make pasta (2 cups).  And don’t worry I separated the water I digested from the rest of my water. 1 cup of coffee.

13th– Today there was no showering so I did my dishes and realized that I don’t actually need to use that much water for my dishes, because I really only use one plate of bowl a day I think I might actually be able to do dishes once or twice a week. So I only used one or two cups of water to do the dishes, and at the end of the day I was able to use the remaining water to wash my face and hair (instead of taking a whole shower).  I didn’t use any of the water to cook my meals, and drank 94oz of water over the duration of the day. Once again I used about 1.5 gallons to flush the toilet twice. 0 s of coffee : (

14th– Ok so today I decided it would be the day that I stopped drinking coffee, well lets just say today I won’t drink coffee, I don’t want to set my goals too high. And I did it! I know that might not seem like that big accomplishment but to me it is.  Today was the first day in, well as long as I can remember that I didn’t drink coffee.  So if I can continue to do this I’ll hopefully be able to greatly reduce my water footprint.  Other than that everything else was normal, had a nice warm shower because my friend gave me the idea of heating up the water before used it to shower.  I didn’t use any water to cook, and drank my normal 64oz of water.  I don’t know why but ever since high school when I started carrying my Nalgene around I have always drunk 2 of them, no less, and usually no more. Normal toilet usage of 1.5 gallons.  No coffee day 2! New streak of 2 days.

15th-YAY it’s Friday! Anyway it was muddy at Frisbee practice today so I unfortunately decided to take a real shower.  But I did it differently than I usually do.  Instead of leaving the water on for the entirety of the shower, I turned it on for about 30 seconds to get wet, turned it off to lather myself in soap and shampoo, and then turned it on for about 2min to wash all the suds off of me.  Apart from the small mishap with the shower I was able to continue on normally and use my typical 1.5 gallons of water for the toilet. I think that might be something that I should work on in the upcoming weeks.  3 days of no coffee!

16th– It’s the last day of the week so it’s time for my weekly update with  Uh oh, for shower usage I realized that it only calculates by time of shower.  But I should be able to figure out how many gallons/min an average low-flow shower disperses. And it’s 2.5 gallons/min.  So that means the amount of water I use equals less than a one-minute shower.  I take the equivalence of a 0.6 min shower.  My total water footprint is 2158 cubic meters/year or 570083.286 gallon/year.  That’s a total reduction of a little over 10 thousand gallons of water/year just because I have reduced the amount of time I spend I the shower and the amount of coffee I drink.  But now for the moment of truce, did I reduce my water footprint by 20% (I don’t think so…) nope. I came in 8% shy of the goal at 12% reduction of my total water footprint.  It’s a little disappointing that I didn’t make my goal but in the grand scheme of things if I can keep up those 2 relatively small changes I made it will make a large difference in my total water footprint.  4 days coffee free!

17th– The beginning of week two; after failing to reach my goal for week one I feel very determined to reduce my water footprint by reducing the amount of meat I eat, which is something that I have intended to do for a while.  I eat a fairly meat based diet and almost no fruits or veggies.  So this week I think that I’m going to try and cut my meat consumption in half, and double my fruit and vegetable consumption. 5 days that’s the way!

18th– Today I went to Wegmans with my girlfriend and had her help me design a meal plan for the week.  I usually spend a majority of my time in the fresh meat section looking at the sausage and steaks, but she made me spend the majority of my time in the fresh fruits and vegetables section.  I felt lost (which is weird because I find myself at Wegmans at least twice a week) in this section.  She explained to me what went into a basic salad (something that I have never actually had to make, or eat entirely), and showed me that I could use peppers, onions and mushrooms to accent my grilled chicken.  I was fairly uneasy about this.  I and even as I sit here now 3 hours later I still can’t believe that I have more fruits and vegetables in my fridge than the rest of my housemates combined.  I figured that I will stick with my every other day showering and keep the other variables that I changed last week the same, so I will not be reporting them unless I break them or something along those lines.   6 days, well that’s ok!

19th– So today, knock on wood, I broke one of the goals from last week I had a cup of coffee.  I was really tired this morning and was running late and need a pick-me-up and that was the only thing that I could find.  Grrr I’m kind of angry with myself.  Any way today I has my normal sandwich for lunch (turkey and ham with cheese and mayo) but for dinner my girlfriend made me this weird salad with apples, walnuts, almonds, raisons, chick peas cheese (cheddar cheese) and lettuce, romaine lettuce, not “that shitty stuff they use at restaurants” as my girlfriend said.  And it actually wasn’t that bad.  My roommates had a good laugh at me as I tried to stab and scoop all the lettuce with my fork. And we’re back to zero…

20th– Today I woke up and really wanted that coffee that I have been trying so hard to stay away from, it’s hard waking up and smelling it when you know you can’t have it, but I did myself proud and I didn’t have any, so it was a good start to the day.  Today in all my chaos I totally forgot to eat lunch but I had a mid afternoon snack when I stole my friends baby carrots that he was eating at practice.  Now that I think about it I should have gotten more carrots, I have always liked those I should eat those more.  And for dinner I had another salad with my grilled chicken that I covered (I’m sure that’s no the correct term but I ain’t no chef) with some peppers and onions, and it was fairly good.  I did however end up taking a real shower like I previously described on the 8th because I was abnormally smelly from practice earlier today.  I’ve also been thinking that during this whole project I’ve done a lot of little things that haven’t really affected the way that I live but have made a decent size impact on my water footprint. No coffee counter: 1

21th– Well it’s day 11 of my assignment/project, and I just looked closer at the syllabus and realized that the goal of the assignment was to see how much I could reduce my footprint for one week.  So I guess I’ll start with my initial 580121.824 gal/year, and try to reduce that by 50% because I have already made some changes towards the greater goal.  I will start today and finish in 7 days, so in the 28th.  So I’m going to need to make more drastic changes.  I cut my shower time virtually into quarters and stopped eating a lot of meat so I think I’m going to go “finals week” on this week.  To me that mean no showering, no dishes, laundry basic hygiene and I think I’ll just try to go vegetarian for the week to totally cut out my meat usage.  And a bonus plus, I wonder how long I can go without my friends noticing this. 2 Days

22nd-Ok so I have all the supplies that I need to get through this next 6 days, for dinner I eat a normal salad with carrots and lettuce and some sort of nut that I can’t remember the name of.  As well as showering, didn’t happen.  I had some mud on my leg so I scraped it off with a rag and decided that that rag would be used as my scraping rag, and only as my scraping rag and its name is scrapey and she shall be mine.  Anyways, ate more salad for dinner today, I don’t even keep track of what I put in it anymore I’m so busy with work and other things that I just grab a bunch of stuff and throw it together.  It didn’t taste that bad actually, sort of tasted like lettuce and dressing.  And I decided to brush my teeth but not to rinse my mouth, so I actually didn’t use any water during the act.  Also I was reading on the Internet that you can tie a soda bottle into your toilet bowl and it will help reduce the amount of water that your toilet uses when you flush.  Also I decided that I didn’t really need to wash the dishes in the sink.  I checked online and it says that it’s supposed to be rainy for most of the week so I figure that I could leave the dishes out side and they would get clean, and I’m really good at using the same plate for days at time without washing.3 Days!

23rd– It’s day three and I decided to make a nice delicious mushroom and pepper omelet.  Which is a fairly typical day for me.  This weekend I have a Frisbee tournament in RPI so me and my friends left really early in the morning (5:00) to get there and I realized that I’m not going to be able to shower, and that’s pretty nasty.  So I figured I’d get on with it and I went and played.  That day however it happened to rain for most of the morning so after a whole day of playing Frisbee I was rather caked in mud and very upset that I wouldn’t be able to take a shower.  So I decided to get creative.  While I was talking to myself out loud one of my friends that I was staying at pointed out that there was a pool in his back yard that I could jump into.  So I decided this was a good idea.  When I went back to the pool I realized that by pool he meant little pond that’s surrounded by vegetation.  But oh well, it’s better than doing nothing I decided.  And in I went.  And I can safely say that that was by far one of the worst swimming experiences that I have ever had.  The water was numbing to the point I almost couldn’t breath.  But nether less I was able to get the mud off with the assistance of scrapey.  And for dinner my friend’s mom had actually made this really good vegetarian lasagna.   I’ve made it through almost half the week and I’ve figure out how to clean myself without actually showering, and I’m alive as a vegetarian, though I do miss meat very much. 4 Days, time to play.

24th– So day four and I’ve still been consuming the same two Nalgene bottles of water a day, and haven’t used much more than that, besides for flushing the toilet when I do number two.  Not many revelations today, though I did get my second callahan of my career in a game against St. Lawrence (like the watershed).  Had a bagel and peanut butter with a side of pickles for lunch (sounds gross but actually wasn’t that bad).  And as for dinner I got the salad at McDonalds and I might have had a little nibble of my friends burger.  It was the smallest nibble ever though, I swear.  For dinner number two, I made Mac and Cheese so I needed to use two cups of water for that.  And before I headed home to Ithaca I took a jump into my friends “pool” and cleaned myself off again.  5

25th– Third to last day.  It’s starting to grow on me.  I’m not really sure how much more of this I can go though.  The no showering and other normal sanitary processes aren’t bothering me that much.  I’ve had to do that before while on the trail hiking and such, but I always had meat.  Meat has always been my main consumption of food, and I have never even dreamed of going this long without consuming it.  There are usually days in which I will eat well over 2 sometimes 3 pounds of meat a day.  I feel like I’m getting weaker, I’m not sure if it’s real of if I’m imaging it.  But I continue on my mission and eat tofu stir-fry with rice for dinner today.  It rained today so I took out my plate and bowl and scrubbed them in the rain.  I also decided it would be a good opportunity to wash some of my jeans.  So out I went and it was easy to do the plates and stuff, the hard part was figuring out how to get the jeans clean.  I figured out that it would be easiest to use the brush from our dustpan and add some detergent to it and scrub away.  And while I don’t think that my strategy actually worked that well, I did come up with the idea to put my fermenting bucket outside under one of the drains, so that I could use that water to wash my face, and do other things.  I think that if I really wanted to reduce my water footprint and had the money, one of the first things I would do would be to install a water harvesting system.  To me it seems that it is one of the best ways that one can collect and save water.  I would hook the system up to my grey water system and use it to flush toilets and water (if I actually had a garden).  6

26th– Well today I injured my hand playing Frisbee so I spent most of the day under painkillers so I’m not really sure what happened.  I do know however that I had tomato soup for lunch today, and that’s about it.  My friends tell me how I refused to get in the shower because I “don’t wanna fail my project” as they tell it, but besides from that I spent most of the day sleeping. 7, New Record

27th– The rain water I collected came in a lot of help today, I used some of the water to get the mud off of me that I had accumulated during practice, and I also used the water to shower in my bathtub today.  While it probably wasn’t the best idea, it is rainwater, which is really clean, and I collected it in my fermentation bucket that I had just finished a batch of hard cider in so it was sanitized.  But as I “showered” I realized that us as Americans probably don’t need to shower every day like many do.  We don’t get that dirty for the most part.  And if as a nation we took fewer showers it would really help our entire nation lower it’s footprint.

28th-Thank goodness! The last day of this assignment.  Today did things as usual.  I drank the usual 2 Nalgene bottles of water, and only flushed my modified toilet once in which I used the remaining water that I had collected from the rain.  In an overall reflection of the past 7 days I guess that it hasn’t been that hard to reduce my water footprint.  Oh I didn’t mention it; I reduced my water footprint to 317 cubic meters/year (83742.540 gallons/year)!!! That’s a decrease of a whopping 85.5%!! Which I think is incredible.  While it was something that was interesting to try for a little while, it’s not something that I could continue with for very long.  There gets a point where ignoring your personal hygiene will catch up to you, whether it’s not showering or not doing laundry it will catch up to you, most likely in some sort of disease.  At the same time it was very interesting to see that by eliminating my meat consumption I greatly dropped my water footprint, by almost 50% alone!  So it the whole world became vegetarian I think we would solve all the water problems that we have in the world.  But such a drastic change like that is something that could never happen.  If we want change to happen it will need to happen in the industry first.  They will need to change how they produce and deliver food and other consumer products, because that is where the majority of the water footprint comes from.


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